Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Money: The Ubiquitous Leveler

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Money: The Ubiquitous Leveler

Article excerpt

I fear I am sometimes overly optimistic about Hispanics and higher education. But in truth there is a lot of good news. We all know more Hispanics are attending college, graduating and launching successful careers. I like to emphasize that. Besides how can one stumble through life without being optimistic?

But I also realize it 'taint all rosy for all Hispanics. As Washington-based, Excelencia in Education reports, the gap between Caucasian and Hispanic college completion rates is not only very wide but increasing.

A continuing criticism of education is that we paint an overly rosy picture of the future and we de-emphasize or outright ignore the importance of money. I know some business schools cater to the "Me generation" mentality. That's the other extreme - which I don't recommend. I do think we should be more balanced, more realistic.

Another systemic weakness is that Hispanic students all too often are either pushed out of high school or channeled into lower level service professions. It begins sometimes with their parents, who dare not hope for too much for their children. That is reinforced by well-meaning teachers who urge youngsters to be nurses, instead of doctors, to be school teachers, to be social workers. Those are all noble and needed professions but practitioners will never make much money and thus miss having the opportunities and influence that money can bring. Being a little selfish is the first step to becoming unselfish.

Money Matters

Going to college and the college we attend are influenced by family wealth. To the point, rich kids have far brighter futures than those at the bottom of the economic ladder, where many Hispanics still reside. Money may not guarantee happiness, but it's a powerful component in everyone's life.

Money plays a role in the colleges we consider, the academic majors we chose, the careers we dare pursue and on and on.

Student loans

Today's students have accumulated more than a trillion dollars in student debt. It's a real burden. Given poor payment history in the past, legislation was passed so that student loans cannot be set aside through bankruptcy proceedings.

The median debt for an undergraduate is $28,000. Not insurmountable - if you have a good job. But since there is high unemployment among recent college graduates one wonders how these loans will ever be paid off.

Some graduate students have it worse, having acquired loans in excess of $100,000. A few months ago, Ryan Anderson wrote an opinion piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education, titled "The Lonely Shame of Student Debt," which lays bare the underbelly reality of student loans. He was a PhD candidate who was frequently hounded, albeit politely, by bill collectors.

One day, after being passed around by several courteous but persistent bill collectors, he was asked.

"Well, is there a reason why you can't make your payment at this time?"

"My answer jumps out of me: 'I can't make the payment because I am deep in student-loan debt, trying to finish graduate school, looking for work, there is no work, the higher-education market is completely devastated, I'm raising a kid, and I happened to go to graduate school right in the middle of a global economic implosion. Sorry.' "

The student-debt problem is endemic in higher education. It permeates all sectors and it is painful.

"Talking about student debt is taboo. Many of us feel shame and embarrassment, and we keep quiet to avoid being seen as complainers or losers. We keep our heads down."

Jobs, technology and shoals

Many college graduates can't get a job and have returned to live with their parents. Latest figures from Washington estimate that 16 percent of college graduates fall into this category. Further, a significant number who are employed aren't working in their field of study.

Technology continues to change the world. When a company can hire competent engineers, lawyers or accountants electronically for $2 an hour in India or the Philippines, homegrown opportunities are bound to shrink. …

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